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May 23, 2016

Is LinkedIn Telling it Straight?

Filed under: Business,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:49 am

Last week, LinkedIn, a site where professionals network with each other, sent some users this less-than-urgent email:

LinkedIn email

However, at the same time, LinkedIn’s chief technology officer posted this more dire warning on the company’s official blog:


In 2012, LinkedIn was the victim of an unauthorized access and disclosure of some members’ passwords. At the time, our immediate response included a mandatory password reset for all accounts we believed were compromised as a result of the unauthorized disclosure. Additionally, we advised all members of LinkedIn to change their passwords as a matter of best practice.

Yesterday, we became aware of an additional set of data that had just been released that claims to be email and hashed password combinations of more than 100 million LinkedIn members from that same theft in 2012. We are taking immediate steps to invalidate the passwords of the accounts impacted, and we will contact those members to reset their passwords. We have no indication that this is as a result of a new security breach.

UPDATE: May 18, 5:30 p.m. PT

We’re moving swiftly to address the release of additional data from a 2012 breach, specifically:

We have begun to invalidate passwords for all accounts created prior to the 2012 breach​ that haven’t update​d​ their password since that breach. We will be letting individual members know​ ​if they need to reset their password.

So he’s saying that maybe over 100 million emails addresses and passwords (actually 117 million according to news reports) were stolen previously and are now for sale, and not just the 6.5 million originally believed.

It seems that their casual email to members seriously underplays the seriousness of the situation. And as we’ve said before, the worst mouse print is the disclosure that is not made.


LinkedIn just sent a “Notice of Data Breach” to registrants outlining in more detail what happened. (They must have read Mouse Print* this week. )


• • •

March 28, 2016

“Use Only in the Case of an Apocalypse”

Filed under: Business,Computers,Humor,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:46 am

Just in time for April Fool’s Day…

Amazon recently released a software gaming platform for developers called Lumberyard. Buried in its terms and conditions is this unexpected little ditty:


57.10 Acceptable Use; Safety-Critical Systems. Your use of the Lumberyard Materials must comply with the AWS Acceptable Use Policy. The Lumberyard Materials are not intended for use with life-critical or safety-critical systems, such as use in operation of medical equipment, automated transportation systems, autonomous vehicles, aircraft or air traffic control, nuclear facilities, manned spacecraft, or military use in connection with live combat. However, this restriction will not apply in the event of the occurrence (certified by the United States Centers for Disease Control or successor body) of a widespread viral infection transmitted via bites or contact with bodily fluids that causes human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization. [emphasis added]

So only if science fiction zombies come to life, then and only then, can this software be used to save lives.

The world can rest easy now. Thanks, Amazon.


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August 18, 2014

Is it a News Story or Is it an Advertisement?

Filed under: Business,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:48 am

 Every day, MrConsumer scours the Internet to find the 25 or so stories that we feature in Consumer World each week. And it should come as no surprise that Google News is a primary source. Last week, when searching for news stories one day, this was what Google News presented:

Google result

The very first result looked like a great story to bring to the attention of Consumer World readers — “10 Ways You’re Throwing Money Away Daily.” Upon clicking the link, one is brought to that story on the LA Times website:

Click on picture to expand to full size,
click resulting picture if necessary to enlarge,
and scroll to the top.

It is a very long story offering all these tips, with appropriate graphics for each one. Tip #3 caught our eye, suggesting that money could be saved on eyewear by purchasing a vision plan:

eye tip

The link presented in the tip takes the reader to VSP — Vision Service Plan — where it purports to show dramatic savings on a pair of eyeglasses. And one can enroll in the plan right there.

Pretty clearly, this whole long story providing savings tips had a single purpose — to drive readers to this insurance plan. But it was a news story, right?

Scrolling back to the top of the page, the secret is revealed:



There it is. “Advertisement” in tiny letters (actual size). Did you catch it when you first looked at the full graphic above? Do you think that most people caught it?

This whole “story” that went on and on, page down after page down about eight times, was actually an ad, and not editorial content presented by the LA Times. This is called “native advertising” where the content is made to fit it more with the surrounding content on a webpage and appear less like an advertisement.

We wrote to the LA Times and explained how something like this could mislead readers. We asked some very pointed questions about this manner of presenting advertising with such a small disclaimer, how it wound up in Google as a news story, and if they were going to try to fix the problem. They responded:

“…the advertisement in question is clearly labeled as such and the only path for readers to find that content was intended to be via an panel that is also clearly labeled as advertising. However, your inquiry brought our attention to the fact that although this ad – and others of the same ilk – is not included in our News SiteMap and the page has “noindex nofollow” directives, there appears to be a technical glitch with Google News. We are working with Google to find out why the content is indexed incorrectly and have the issue fixed as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have removed the advertisement from our site to eradicate potential for further confusion.” — V.P. Communications, Los Angeles Times

While we are gratified that the paper acted so quickly to remove the advertisement, they seem not to have a problem with such a small disclaimer at the top. We hope they will reconsider that position, and if they continue to display advertisements that look identical to news stories, that they will take further steps to more clearly identify and differentiate that kind of content.


• • •

January 6, 2014

On Time Delivery Guaranty Gotchas

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:31 am

  UPS, and to a lesser extent Federal Express, got black eyes this past holiday season when thousands of packages were left undelivered in time for Christmas.

Some retailers like Amazon, Kohl’s, and Walmart promised to make peace with their customers by variously offering shipping refunds, gift cards, or complete refunds. But what about UPS and FEDEX themselves?

Both companies have on-time guarantees.

For UPS, air shipments are guaranteed throughout the holiday season. But, if you used UPS Ground service, they have conveniently excluded the two weeks before Christmas:


UPS guarantee

Federal Express on the other hand, appears to have left their full money back guarantee intact.

FEDEX guarantee

For overnight deliveries, their policy is generous:

“FedEx offers a money-back guarantee for every U.S. shipment. You may request a refund or credit of your shipping charges if we miss our published (or quoted, as in the case of FedEx SameDay®) delivery time by even 60 seconds.”

Wow, even if they are only a minute late you get back your money. Wow, again.

In small type, however, the customer is referred to Fedex’s “terms and conditions” and ground tariff. For both overnight express and ground services, their money back policy begins this way:


“We offer a money-back guarantee for our services. This guarantee can be suspended, modified or revoked at our sole discretion without prior notice to you.” [emphasis added]

So they have this great policy, but tuck into the fine print that they can suspend it at will. Nice, huh?

Sure enough, FEDEX created a special holiday money back guarantee . For FEDEX Ground shipments, they invoked that weasel clause just when it might be needed most.


“The money-back guarantee for FedEx Ground® and FedEx Home Delivery® services will be suspended temporarily for packages tendered during the 14 calendar days before Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013 (Wednesday, Dec. 11, through Tuesday, Dec. 24).”

And for FEDEX express services, they give themselves an extra 90 minutes to make on-time deliveries, just like UPS.

The company issued a statement after the big media uproar about packages being delivered late (primarily by UPS), saying:

“Every single package is important to us, and we will continue to work directly with customers to address any isolated incidents.”

The bottom line is that these companies have tried to absolve themselves of on-time delivery responsibilities, and have been relatively silent about how they would make good for disappointed shoppers.


• • •

November 11, 2013

When Advertising Masquerades as News

Filed under: Business,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:13 am

When you go to a respected news site online, you expect to find links to many different stories that the publisher has on its own website, and that it has found elsewhere and recommends.

Reuters, one of the two leading newswire services, is no exception. When you click on a particular story link, you are taken to a page with that story. Surrounding the story are various lists of popular stories, recommendations of other stories, and conventional advertisements.

Here is such a page captured on October 27, with red outlines added for emphasis [see full size]:

In the left column is a box entitled “Recommended,” where various video stories are listed. [Note: screenshots below were captured prior to October 27 on a different page of Reuters and sent to Reuters for comment.] One would naturally believe that Reuters’ editors have chosen this content as their recommendations to readers.

Recommended Video

In the bottom right-hand corner of that box is a tiny question mark. If you click on it, an explanation pops up:



It says that a firm called “Outbrain,” not Reuters, has selected these videos and they were paid to place these links here and make these recommendations.

Similarly, further down the page, there is a box with a list of stories that says “More from Reuters” on the left, and another list of stories captioned “From Around the Web” on the right. That little question mark appears inconspicuously in the corner again.

Reuters recs


The same disclosure is made about Outbrain there too, and one might believe that the stories in the right column are Outbrain’s recommendations (if you knew enough to click the link), but you would never imagine that the stories on the left where it says “More from Reuters” might also be paid links. (No matter what story you click on in that box, the status bar of your browser indicates that link first goes through Outbrain.)

In all there are six sections on this page (see red boxes) where news stories are linked but where that content is not actually recommended by Reuters. Someone has bought advertising space on the Reuters website to promote those stories (or the advertisements that might be on those pages). While sections labeled “Sponsored Content” should signal the reader that this is really an advertisement, other sections with just question mark or a little logo, do not clearly convey a similar message.

The Federal Trade Commission has worked with Google, for example, to ensure that paid search results that are really advertisements, be completely segregated from actual search results, be labeled as “ads,” and in some cases be on a contrasting background. Don’t news organizations have the same obligation not to misrepresent the content on their webpages and to better distinguish paid links to news stories from actual recommendations of the host site?

Mouse Print* sent Reuters detailed questions regarding the concerns raised by their sponsored content boxes, but received no response.

The Federal Trade Commission is said to be planning a roundtable discussion next month about this issue, which is referred to as “native advertising” or “sponsored content.”

[Please note: Reuters is but one of many news sites that feature these story recommendation boxes (CNN, Time, and 90,000 other sites use Outbrain), and Outbrain is just one of the firms that deals in sponsored content.]


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